I used to think acts of generosity were strategic or spontaneous gifts we give. Now I believe generosity is how we live. This has been coming to me for some time now, and I sort of got it right in Connected for Good. But this notion catapulted to my consciousness when my ‘adopted brother’ Edward tragically died after being thrown from a horse. Hundreds and hundreds were affected by this loss; friends, students, fraternity brothers and colleagues joined his wife, two adult sons and four grandkids to mourn. This loss has been the deepest sorrow I’ve ever felt, and therein lies the insight about generosity.
Edward, like his uncle, who was my stepdad for 45 years, was so tight he squeaked when he walked. He drove old cars and endlessly repaired them and delayed replacing anything until its warranty was long gone. He saved everything like his Depression-era dad because “you might need that someday.”
Edward was not a donor the way you and I look at it. Oh, he would make a charitable gift from time to time, but he was so loved because he spent himself on others…constantly. He was always available- for any chore to help anyone. Widow’s “honey-do lists,” unemployed friends needing a cup of coffee and a listening ear, grieving widowers who could not get out of bed to mow their lawns are just a few ways he gave of himself.
Here is the insight: We are wired to contribute, not consume. Lives of consumption isolate our souls from the true source of happiness. Contributing to the well-being of another turns out to be the most powerful and undervalued expression of generosity. This way of living is not strategic at all, and those who live like this would hesitate calling themselves generous…and never philanthropic. However, the lives they touch feel loved somehow, and the giver flourishes. And when the giver is gone we come to know that generosity is spending ourselves and not just our money.
Read my book, Connected for Good: A Gameplan for a Generous Life, to discover stories of others who have been, become, or continue to be generosity champions.